The purpose of this paper is to discuss the tests the author faced in her sociolegal fieldwork on Hawaiian cockfighting, and to draw broader lessons from these tests for other ethnographers of illegal organizations.
The author draws on six weeks of in-depth ethnographic fieldwork and interviewing.
Relational work in ethnographic fieldwork requires skills academia does not always impart – including humility, a sense of humor and patience with yourself and other people. Each test we face is a part of the ongoing process of building these relationships.
As ethnographers, it is sometimes considered “taboo” to tell our stories – to explain our internal and external struggles in the field. This taboo makes a certain amount of sense. After all, we are trying to understand society, not reflect on our own development as people. Yet the taboo is also a pity. For one, it is unrealistic to think that we are “mere observers” whose presence in the field does not affect it. “Scrubbing” ourselves from the field necessarily scrubs out some of our data. It also omits parts of the story that other researchers might find interesting or instructive.
The author is grateful to Monica McDermott for feedback that greatly strengthened this paper, to Tobias Eule and Annika Lindberg for their hard work and editorial guidance, to the other authors in this special issue for comments on the initial draft, and to two anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions.
Young, K. (2020), "Understanding illegality: tests and trust in sociolegal fieldwork", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-02-2019-0014Download as .RIS
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